“This book isn’t warm and fuzzy but remind yourself that I’m one of the lucky ones. I made it through somewhat scarred but I found healing. Some kids aren’t so lucky. Some just graduate to the adult system, pretty much believing they were destined for it all along.”
There are a total of four published works exploring the Shawbridge boys’ farm, or as it’s known to most who spend time there, The Farm. The fourth and most recent is the personal story of a young girl in the early ‘80s who became a ward of Quebec’s juvenile system and spent her teenage years chasing her freedom at nearly any cost.
At the age of 12, Erika Tafel was skipping as many classes as she could manage. She was hanging out at the Pointe Claire shopping centre or heading to her friends’ high school and attending classes with them. She was a popular kid from a good home with loving parents but she wasn’t satisfied. Unchallenged by her schoolwork and unheard by those around her who just wanted her to conform, Tafel left home two years later and stumbled onto a journey filled with danger, fear, self-preservation, and discovery.
Slave to the Farm is a story that one needs to prepare oneself for in order to really take it all in. Tafel introduces her parents and her social workers; her siblings and her cellmates; her boyfriends and her abusers with a thoroughness that is surprising for a book that’s only 270 pages. She doesn’t pity herself and she doesn’t force her feelings onto the reader. She tells her story without glossing over the hard parts and lets you know she made it out alive while reminding you that not all do.
The glimpse into the juvenile system from the perspective of a youth is both rare and necessary. While I was personally left aching for the in-depth stories from the rest of The Farm’s inhabitants, I was also left satisfied that Tafel’s story is one that could offer solace and comfort to a young person looking for an image of themselves in the world today. It could also serve as a reminder to those who are unaware or disbelieving of the flaws not only in the juvenile system, but in our communication with each other as human beings. It points out that “the norm” doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not a reason to punish or ignore them, but an opportunity to explore new ways of educating, communicating, and accepting the people around us.